Questions about God, religion and the role of faith in the world may not come up in chemistry class, but there is a place at U of G where students explore these topics.
“For many students, university is their first time living away from home and the faith community where they grew up,” says Hava Goldberg. “It’s a time for exploring their beliefs and exploring the world, and I think they need the resources to learn not just about their own faith but about others. It can be a pivotal, life-changing time for many students.”
Goldberg is a member of the University of Guelph’s Multi-Faith Resource Team, which is celebrating its 25th-anniversary this year.
Professor emeritus O. P. Dwivedi helped launch the group in the 1980s after noticing that a Christian minister or priest participated in every convocation ceremony. “As we’d become a more multicultural community, I really felt this should be expanded,” he says. The ministers and priests involved in convocation were drawn from the Campus Ministry, so Dwivedi approached Rev. Ed Den Haan, a Dutch Reform minister and member of the group.
“He was surprised by my suggestion that the campus Christian ministry should be expanded to include Hindu, Islam and other faiths, but he was very open to the idea,” says Dwivedi. After several meetings and gaining permission from the University administration, the Campus Multi-Faith Ministry (as it was called then) was born. Dwivedi himself is a part-time Hindu priest and helped to locate an imam and representatives from local synagogues to participate. “At the time, the U of G was perhaps the first university campus to have a full multi-faith team,” he says.
Dwivedi has stayed on as a Hindu priest, even though he is now retired from the Department of Political Science. He teaches a free yoga class on campus on Wednesdays and Fridays from noon until 1 p.m. as part of his sharing of Hindu traditions.
Goldberg works for the local Jewish community in a professional capacity and, along with psychology professor Michael Grand, provides resources, help and community connections for Jewish students. “We are also ambassadors to those of other faiths who want to know more,” she says.
Other members of the team are U of G staff, faculty and members of local faith communities who are prepared to help when needed. In addition, two students have been hired to help plan events and activities and facilitate student contacts with the multi-faith team.
Fourth-year international development student Michelle Ball is one of the student facilitators. She says the multi-faith team is “an alternative voice that speaks for diversity and dialogue. Faith is very important in many people’s lives, but it is rarely talked about in a secular university.”
The Multi-Faith Resource Team is responsible for organizing Peace Week during the fall semester and Faith Week in the spring, says Goldberg. “We also hold a ‘Places of Worship Tour’ once each semester to take students to the local churches, synagogues and temples,” she adds. The team recently held a “Stop Hate, Promote Acceptance” rally as well.
“We need to speak out whenever hate occurs against any group,” says Goldberg.
Ball, who works from a desk in McNally House, says part of her role is to help people who are looking for information or support from the multi-faith team find the right person. “One thing we say is that it’s not about all faiths being the same; we aren’t trying to create a homogenous entity,” explains Ball. “We still maintain who we are, but the team tries to bring people together around common concerns.”
Ball believes that issues of faith matter even for those who consider themselves non-religious or atheist. “Faith is personal, but it also touches every aspect of society. It affects how people vote and how they live their lives.”
Dwivedi says he’s seen changes in the cultural make-up of the University over the years, and the team has expanded in response to that. “This experiment we started is the best thing that could have happened,” he says. “This university is not just a white, Christian place. It’s a community where all cultures and faith traditions are welcomed and represented.”
The 25th-anniversary celebration has included a special dinner that brought together a large group of people to mark the occasion. Goldberg says the past 25 years of providing support and encouragement to students and other members of the University community are a solid foundation the Multi-Faith Resource Team hopes to build on. “We want to do bigger and better things on campus with more student involvement,” she explains.
The first steps towards that will begin in September, when a Student Multi-Faith Council will be created. It will include student representatives from the faith communities on campus and others who are interested in faith issues. Students who would like to be involved can email email@example.com.